Ask pundits, fans and anyone you like about the English second tier and they will come back to you with glowing commendations and praise.
They will mention the drama, excitement and passion which seems to be present in all Championship teams and matches, as well as the ‘anyone can beat anyone’ nature of the league.
Another thing they will point to is the extraordinarily high attendance figures for the second tier of a domestic championship, with the average gate easily the highest of the equivalent leagues all across Europe, around 15,000.
However, this is not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Some clubs are now trying to finance their push to the Premier League by charging truly astronomical prices for the second tier. Sheffield Wednesday charge £52 for their most expensive ticket, and several other clubs are not too far away. Brighton, Fulham, Ipswich and Leeds all sell their priciest match day tickets at over £40.
What’s more, five clubs have their most expensive season ticket priced at over £700 – that’s costly for plenty of Premier League sides. The amount of categories available for discount is also shrinking, with many clubs no longer offering a student or under 21 drop in pricing.
An aspect of this pricing that often goes under the radar is how it impacts away fans the worst. On top of all the travelling expenses, expensive tickets can often mean that the average away day to a Championship team costs as much as £70/80, with train fares or petrol money generally costing roughly the same as the tickets. Clubs need to be careful that they do not price out away supporters here.
The first thought may be that it does not matter much, but I would be fairly happy to bet that one of the reasons that the second tier is still so admired across Europe is the vast number of travelling fans who follow their sides all over the country, even on weekday nights. Three thousand Leeds fans travel everywhere, Derby and Nottingham Forest take large followings too, and almost all clubs regularly take over 1,000 fans on their travels. These are huge numbers in the context of other European leagues – in Spain, only a handful of sides have really built up a culture of having large and vociferous away support.
All this means that Championship clubs regularly have not so much gaps as yawning chasms in their terraces, occasionally artfully covered over by a giant advertising sheet. Blackburn only fill 40% of their stadium – and they were Premier League champions 20 years ago. Cardiff, Huddersfield and the MK Dons are also on average filling less than half their capacity this year. In fact, no club in the Championship this year is filling more than 90% of their ground, with only Derby even coming close.
While this is partly due to several clubs having stadiums clearly much too large for any Championship club to fill (Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday), the point remains that some clubs would fill substantially more of their ground with a slightly more long-term policy towards ticketing.
If ticket prices continue to slowly yet surely rise, many who would otherwise buy season tickets or attend matches regularly will not do so, and many who currently do may find themselves priced out. For a league that prides itself on (amongst other things), vibrant, noisy stadia with vociferous fans, that truly would be a terrible thing.